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March 1, 2021

Mandy Nolan’s Soapbox: There is no place like home… actually there are no places

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Mandy Nolan’s Soapbox: There is no place like home… actually there are no places

Imagine if your job was to manage Airbnb properties for absentee landlords. It’s a reasonable job, after all it’s probably one of the strongest growth industries in Byron Bay. Imagine then, the irony, if you couldn’t find somewhere to live. If you were made homeless by the industry you work for. That’s the story of a Byron Bay woman who contacted me to tell me her story. I am not going to tell you who she is, because I think people deserve the dignity of anonymity. It’s one of the things you don’t have when you are homeless; a safe place where the world can’t see you. This person isn’t sleeping in the street, she’s staying in the garage of a friend. But she’s 56, she’s lived here for over 30 years and she has always worked. She’s working now. Plumping pillows, changing sheets, stocking fridges with champagne for people coming to have a holiday in the houses that our community used to live in.

I am going to call this woman Ann. I can tell by her voice she’s distressed. Several times in our conversation she starts to cry and apologises. I ask her about her sense of a future here, and she becomes very quiet. For a woman in her late 50’s to be living in a friend’s garage makes her feel insecure. Like she can’t relax. Like she doesn’t have any choices. She is aware that there are some that say she could ‘just move away’. They’re probably the same people who own homes, who need people to do the jobs that Ann does. But this is her community. It’s where her friends are. Her kids live nearby. Her grandchild is just up the road. She wonders, at her age, if she could move into a new community and make friends? It’s much harder as you get older, and when you’re on your own to find your way into new friendships. It’s not unreasonable to want to live in the community where you have a history. Where you have employment. Where you have extensive friendship and family networks. It’s not unreasonable to expect there to be affordable, pleasant accommodation.

Ann tells me, over the 30 years she has lived here she has always managed to rent large beautiful homes. It was always relatively affordable, and she was able to raise her daughters here. But she noticed, around five years ago, things started to change. That’s when she started helping people with Airbnb’s. She says it was when garages and granny flats started turning into Airbnb accommodation. She said she could see it coming – soon, there would be more tourists than locals.

Local low income residents in Byron Bay are the human koalas of our Shire. They too have lost much of their habitat. We need affordable housing now, not in three years, or five years, or ten. Now.

Ann has been looking for rentals. I am shocked by the prices of what she has been looking at. She tells me a three bedroom house is more than $1000 per week and some are more than $2000 per week. People are renting out their garages for $450 a week. Most garages aren’t even legally inhabitable. For someone like Ann she needs to stick to a rent budget of under $500 per week. That’s a lot for one person. And she doesn’t want to live in shared accommodation. That’s what she did in her 20s and now, at 56, she wants the dignity of being able to live in her own place. That’s a very reasonable expectation.

‘Every house I take care of used to be a home’ she says sadly. ‘Every one of them. Now they are full time holiday places. There are no houses for someone like me who wants to live on her own.’

So Ann has been made homeless. Our new homeless don’t fit the usual stereotypes.

‘I don’t have drug and alcohol issues. I am educated. I have a degree. I contribute to the community.’

Ann knows that she is one of the more privileged homeless in our community. She has friends and social networks and skills. She worries about people who don’t have the ability to advocate for themselves. People who don’t have anyone to look out for them.

‘I have a friend who is a single father with two teenage children, and they have nowhere to sleep. They have been sleeping in their car’.

Ann is angry. Understandably so. The situation is becoming critical.

‘In the ‘80s it was paradise, it saddens me to see I have helped to turn it into this place that has attracted so many self-entitled over-financed sons of rich city people’.

When you come on holidays and you stay in our towns you don’t see people like Ann. She may have changed your sheets, and made your holiday space sparkle, but she’s now living in someone’s garage. When you buy an investment property and you put it up for short-term rental, and make a motza, the plight of the Anns of the world don’t feel like your responsibility. But they are.

If we had a housing stress barometer, similar to the fire danger rating at the entrance to town, we’d currently be at ‘catastrophic danger level.’

There are so many stories out there at the moment of locals made homeless. To change the story we need to hear them. So often these stories are untold because people feel humiliated and shamed by their circumstances. That is not their burden alone – it’s a community story we need to re-write together. I invite you to tell me your story, or the story of someone you know.


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27 COMMENTS

    • really? is that all you can say? it’s her fault because she chose to be a renter? that’s seriously lacking in empathy. Yes she probably should have bought a house, but hindsight is 20/20. Renters need protection too.

    • On one level, yeah. But you never know what people have been through. People get divorced, have to sell the house then can’t afford to buy on their own. A friend of mine had her house basically stolen by her ex husband. People lose their jobs or get into financial trouble and the house is repossessed. Bad things happen. Your comment is a bit simplistic really.

    • Barry- Such a comment can only be made by the privileged who has been lucky in work. There is a whole lot of luck out there that bypasses people – mostly women, when it comes to juggling family, study, work, health- and through no fault of their own, circumstances beyond their control, they are left behind. We need to be better.

  1. Thank you Mandy for a sensitive – nay compassionate, article. It tells a sad story of inequality and the rule of the mighty tourist dollar. We used to be told that Australia was the “fair go” country, but this article shows just how much is unfair today & in our own backyard. My heart goes out to Ann – it is a tragedy that a woman who has contributed to the community, especially an older woman, should suffer homelessness.
    What is the situation re providing more social housing in and around Byron? Do the state and commonwealth governments have funding available for our far north coast region? How can this region be feted as one of the most desirable in the country and yet treat its residents so badly?
    To me this situation should be declared a national emergency.

  2. This woman has raised her daughters (presumably on her own) whilst paying rent and probably earning much less than you ever did Barry. How was she going to be able to save a deposit, legal fees and possibly stamp duty. I was a single woman, without dependents, during this period and found it very difficult to save the deposit. Fortunately I succeeded but it wasn’t easy and I went without a lot. Have a little think about that !

  3. There are literally 10s of thousands of “Ann’s” throughout the country, not just in Byron Bay. I too were in the same boat as Ann, until just before Xmas. I wasn’t reduced to kipping in a friends garage, but had been a life long renter. As you enter your later years, the insecurity of not owning your own property becomes a major worry. I was lucky, through my superannuation I was able to purchase a small unit, outright. After forty years of being at the mercy of landlords and realestate agents, there is no greater feeling of security than owning your own place. Regrettably, most won’t be as fortunate as me: Good luck Ann.

  4. Life doesn’t always work out so that you have the deposit or the income for a bank to approve a mortgage.. even in your 50s. I didn’t buy a house until I was 50. I’m lucky, I could easily have carried on renting. Who knew rents would increase and increase way out of line with pay increases. My last landlord would tell me with glee how much his mortgage repayments were dropping as interest rates fell … my rent never went down though. And when I left they slapped another $100 per week on the rent for the next poor sucker.
    I want to live in a country where noone has to pay more than 50% of their income for the place they live (rent or mortgage).
    I have 2 friends who are homeless for the first time and others with a week to go on their lease. It is frightening to contemplate – this is just the start.
    House prices in Murwillumbah are suddenly out of reach of anyone without a city house to trade in. And there are no rentals available.
    One good thing is that homelessness is going to get so visible that, let’s hope, something gets done. Bring back community housing – good quality , future proofed housing … Not these ridiculous concrete ovens that are still being built on new housing estates.
    We can’t trust individuals to act out of anything but greed.

  5. welcome to disruptive capitalism, isn’t it cool, I’m so influenced….and every time you use Uber to eat or ride, you spread the cancer

  6. i am 50. i am university educated. i have never taken welfare, always worked full time. paid my way. and just kept my head above the level. i am woman. i see house prices soaring so extremely greedily high that i wonder if i can ever meet this market with my income. i read this story and a cold chill goes up my body, literally … knowing this could be me at the end of the next rental lease term.

  7. According to a report from the University of Maryland, there are two main ways that civilisations collapse.

    Ecological strain – the depletion of natural resources – that’s groundwater, soil, fisheries and forests. All these are worsened by climate change.
    Economic stratification – where elites push society to the brink by hoarding huge quantities of wealth and resources. Eventually, the working population crashes due to poverty and elites collapse due to the absence of labour.

    We seem to be working on both simultaneously.

    https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20170418-how-western-civilisation-could-collapse

    • Desmond. You make an obvious point. If people like Ann are all forced to move out who will do these types of jobs. Either they will need to pay sufficiently that someone can afford to live in the area or they will find things collapse because they are not getting. It is the game politicians play when they say the unemployed should move to where the jobs are – often they cannot afford to move.

  8. Wow Barry how judgemental of you. Did you ever stop to think of the cost of raising her family, paying rent when she had a house to rent, even before the rent hike Byron has been above average prices. How would she have been able to save a deposit.

  9. Air B&B and the current tax structure that allows huge concessions for “investment” properties are directly contributing to homelessness in our community. Every time they announce a rise in property prices I know more people will be driven to the streets. Even those who own a home are often driven out by land values driving up rates which can’t be paid for by people on a limited income. I live in Nimbin and know 4 women in the village who bought homes 20-30 years ago who are struggling to keep up with current rates and will probably lose their homes if rates continue to outpace income.

    I believe rates rises should be linked to CPI increases and a new rate should only apply (based on rising land values) when a property is sold to the new landholder. I remember reading years ago about local elderly people from Byron who were forced to sell their homes because they couldn’t afford rates.

    When did the lucky country become only lucky for some, and when did society stop caring about the have nots

    • Finally a sane comment.
      Everyone else seems to think they deserve to live wherever they wish at the expense of reality. Places change people. If someone is willing to pay a higher price then there is a market. Byron is just another suburb if Sydney or melbourne now and perhaps you cant afford it.

    • Hahah, boring is the last thing our Mandy is.
      Mandy will bring a fresh zepher breeze into Canberra. One carrying hope, compassion and acute social insight.

  10. I too am one of the incredibly fortunate who managed to purchase a home late 2019, after living here over 40 years & always working (for low wages)via a marriage breakup & settlement I had enough cobbled together for a deposit. Lucky to get a mortgage as a single woman at 61. In the last 15 months my house has increased in value a ridiculous amount. My terror at the thought of being homeless was overwhelming, my gratitude at having a home is overwhelming. My empathy for all the women in my prior position is overwhelming; I don’t see a solution. When will this insanity end & sanity & compassion prevail?

  11. What made Byron cool was like so many other places that people like me gathered, That didn’t fit the modes of the status quo!
    I lived in Byron from 1985-2003, until it became unaffordable for the misfits to fit into the greedy cool new age capitalists groovy scene, That Is the failed state of Byron Shire!!!! I remember back in the early 80’s riding a motorbike to Lismore to go to Tafe, the graffiti along the Road was spelled out Greed and ill add Greed kills through stress of never having enough. Yes i am talking to you all, the cool yoga teachers, that stretch themselves into large homes, with yoga eternal retreats to feel great until the crash that always follow from high to low! Satsang businesses that run on profits that fuel big lifestyles……anyway i have no idea why I am writing this dribble….

      • sorry my words didn’t appeal to your perspective or understanding! Actually I am no more or less real then anybody else. I don’t accept the concept of enlightenment, so therefore i don’t consider the ego you are addressing as me is enlightened and others beneath my enlightenment…I don’t take you really are thanking me for wisdom….but i am sorry you feel the need to attack the words i expressed…..

  12. So she saw the writing on the wall 5 years ago and continued to enable the change anyway. Worse yet she is still doing it despite the predicament she finds herself in.

    It’s too late to build affordable housing here. Any attempt to do so will contribute to a local oligarchy.

    Move on, look forward, stop serving the rich.

  13. There’s an irony in the fact that when you keep telling people for years how fantastic your town is, they will listen to you and buy it all up, driving you out. In hindsight Byron residents should have been telling everyone what a horrible place it is (and is now becoming)

  14. It was paradise to you in the 80’s and 90’s but not for all the people that lived and worked here already, they thought you were lazy blow ins, not all of you of course but most of you came here to not work or work cash jobs and get the dole, and get wasted, ahh paradise a whole bunch of self entitled jobless government funded know it all’s, and as for the comment of “all the self entitled over financed rich sons”, that’s extremely sexist as the ‘new rich’ female population of the byron shire far exceeds the male, just be matriarchal and say children.
    My concern is for the younger generation that are facing these issues, but they will band together and buy here or buy elsewhere and possibly work they’re way back here, but at the end of the day they won’t miss they’re opportunities to capitalise because unlike the 80’s they don’t have a choice.
    Byron bay is not unique when it comes to rental and price inflation, make a plan, find a way, stop fighting and start building.
    Please try to be more well rounded echo your one sided rhetoric is giving the extreme right wing too much power!

  15. Mandy is in the political party that calls itself “The Greens”. The Mayor actively suppressed any legal action to protect Residential Zonings from use as holiday business areas. When campaigners dragged Council towards doing something, Richo met with Premier Gladys to seek legislative change to legalise criminal renting. That’s what ”The Greens” have done. This is their work, over 16 years. It took real effort to ruin things this badly/

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